Ah, plotting. We’ve all heard the metaphor – plot is the skeleton on which the story is hung.
Plot is not something for you to drape your scenes upon, hoping they eventually tie together and make a good book. Plot is a concept that saturates every page of your work and draws the images, events and people together to make a good book.
This may be the hardest thing for beginning writers to come to understand. We are led to believe that the plot is an object and not a process. As we write and get better at it, we come to realize that the plot touches every word we write, organizing them into a sense of character, action and location.
Now that I’ve totally confused you, I’ll try to explain.
We all have stories to tell. A story is a chronicle of events strung together like links in a chain. These events make the reader want to know what comes next. A plot is more than that. A plot is a chain of cause and effect relationships that involve the reader in the question “why did that happen?” To makes our stories interesting, we need a strong plot.
As writers we are under tremendous pressure to be original, but the truth is, there are only so many basic plot lines. It is the writer’s style and way the plot is presented that makes it original.
As romance writers, we need to take the plots and mix them with a healthy dash of love. When writing our “Great American Romance Novel.” we need to keep some basic points foremost in our plot:
The prospect of love should always be met with a major obstacle. The hero and heroine may want to fall in love, but they can’t. Not for a while anyway.
The pair is often not suited for each other in some way.
The first attempt to overcome the obstacle never works. Their love must be proven.
The characters must be unique and interesting and you must have deep feelings for them in order for the readers to also care. Love has many other feelings associated with it and these feelings must be fully developed according to the needs of the romance plot.
Make sure the hero and heroine are involved in the full test of love and romance. They need to be tested and retested until they finally get the love they seek. Love is earned, not just given.
Ronald B. Tobias gives a rundown of basic plots in his book 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them. Tobias says plot is more than an accessory that conveniently organizes your material. Thinking of plot that way has helped me tremendously over the years. I know I can’t distill his work into a few paragraphs, but I can list a few basic plot lines for you (with a reference to some of the illustrative examples Tobias uses in his book). If need be, find the one that can help your story come alive and tailor it to your needs. The trick is not to copy a plot, but to adapt it to your idea, always remembering in our chosen field to keep the romance level high.
Adventure – Your heroine goes out in search of fortune motivated by someone or something to begin the adventure and needing the hero to complete the task. (Any Indiana Jones movie).
Pursuit – Make sure there is real danger associated with getting caught, and in fact, your hero and heroine may even get caught or almost get caught before the end. Establish the ground rules for the chase, establish the stakes and start the race with a motivating incident. (Murder on the Orient Express)
Rescue – The hero, heroine and “bad guy” weave a journey of pursuit, separation, confrontation and reunion. (The Princess Bride).
Escape – Begin the plot with the imprisonment (of person, of mind or of concept), deal with the plans for the escape and make sure that these plans are almost upset at least one time until finally comes the escape or the liberation of the heroine’s heart. (Rapunzil)
Underdog – The against all odds plot. (Cinderella).
Temptation – This plot examines the motives, needs and impulses of human nature. The hero and heroine must learn something about themselves and why it is right for them to give in (or to not give in) into the temptation. A lot of inner turmoil, a lot of emotion in this one. (Adam and Eve).
Change – The change usually can only be accomplished through love. (The Frog Prince).
Forbidden Love – the hero and heroine defy social convention and pursue their hearts, often with dangerous results. (Romeo and Juliet)
Sacrifice – the sacrifice is often made at a great personal cost, often with a strong moral problem at the center of the story. Make sure the reader understands why the sacrifice must be made. (Casablanca)
Plotting a good book seems like a tall order, doesn’t it? Truth is, writing is work. Good writing is even harder work. But the end result of this entire struggle is a good book; your good book.
In closing, I wish you beautiful heroines, handsome heroes and 4-Star Reviews for what you do to them.